Waterloo on list of top small cities in U.S. - Republic-Times | News

Waterloo on list of top small cities in U.S.

By on October 3, 2012 at 10:34 am
Corner of Mill and Main Street in downtown Waterloo. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

Corner of Mill and Main Street in downtown Waterloo. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

A retired high school geography and civics teacher now living in Florida has put nearly 50 years of research and travel into a list of America’s Best Small Cities.

Making the list of best small cities with a population less than 35,000, at number 47, is Waterloo. In fact, Waterloo is the only Illinois city to make the list. The top three small cities listed are Gettysburg, Penn., Montrose, Colo., and Belmont, N.C.

“Modesty aside, I sincerely believe that my list is the best ever compiled,” writes 73-year-old Charles Nathan Anderson of Winter Haven, Fla. “A degree in geography from a Big Ten university (Michigan State) and countless hours of investigation has given me, I think, an advantage over the competition.”

Anderson said the list, which he has titled “In Search of Eden,” began while he was in college many years ago. The Saturday Evening Post and other national publications offered to publish the list 37 years ago, but Anderson ultimately decided he wanted to travel more and “fine tune” his selections.

The result is hundreds of towns visited by Anderson over several years, combined with research conducted on the internet.

“Cities have greatly changed over the years,” Anderson said. “Some for the worse, some for the better.”

Anderson postponed his research for about 12 years in the aftermath of an explosion that destroyed his Michigan home and resulted in the death of his mother in 1989. He and his wife survived, Anderson said, but all the information gathered up until that point was lost in the blaze.

“That obviously took a lot out of me,” Anderson said.

But the desire to complete the list returned about 10 years ago, and Anderson has pushed forward ever since.

“It’s been a lifetime of doing it, almost giving up, and doing it again,” he told the Republic-Times in a phone interview.

So what are Anderson’s criteria for making this list? First, the town must be a generally prosperous, progressive community.

“A community is no better than its downtown area,” Anderson said. “A lovely central common or courthouse square is always a plus.”

Other criteria used to compile the list include setting (including surrounding countryside), weather (pleasant 12-month climate), identity and population patterns, accessibility, adequate medical care, good schools and cost of living, employment opportunities, entertainment and personal safety.

“An ideal city should have an identity of its own and not be simply a bedroom for the larger city,” Anderson said. “The town should itself be the focal point for most of the residents’ day-to-day activities.”

Anderson said he visited Waterloo less than two years ago, and was instantly drawn in by its beauty.

“I spent some time walking around the (courthouse) square,” he said. “It’s a very pretty little town. I thought it was the ideal kind of town to raise a family, with access to St. Louis but still enough space.”

Anderson opted to share his list with local newspapers in some of the towns who made the cut, preferring to have the local residents of those towns find out first.

In the near future, Anderson said he may share the list with a national magazine and also post it on the internet so people looking for a place to live can find the information in a search.

“Not every city will fit every family; but my cities can be a really good place for seekers to begin their ‘Eden’ search,” he said.


Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.